Self-referential humor

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Self-referential humor, also known as self-reflexive humor or meta humor, is a type of comedic expression[1] that—either directed toward some other subject, or openly directed toward itself—intentionally alludes to the very person who is expressing the humor in a comedic fashion, or to some specific aspect of that same comedic expression. Self-referential humor expressed discreetly and surrealistically is a form of bathos. In general, self-referential humor often uses hypocrisy, oxymoron, or paradox to create a contradictory or otherwise absurd situation that is humorous to the audience.[2]

Self-referential humor is sometimes combined with breaking the fourth wall to explicitly make the reference directly to the audience, or make self-reference to an element of the medium that the characters should not be aware of.

Old Comedy of Classical Athens is held to be the first—in the extant sources—form of self-referential comedy. Aristophanes, whose plays form the only remaining fragments of Old Comedy, used fantastical plots, grotesque and inhuman masks and status reversals of characters to slander prominent politicians and court his audience's approval.[3]


RAS syndrome refers to the redundant use of one or more of the words that make up an acronym or initialism with the abbreviation itself, thus in effect repeating one or more words. However, "RAS" stands for Redundant Acronym Syndrome; therefore, the full phrase yields "Redundant Acronym Syndrome syndrome" and is self-referencing in a comical manner. It also reflects an excessive use of TLAs (Three Letter Acronyms).

Meta has come to be used, particularly in art, to refer to something that is self-referential. Popularised by Douglas Hofstadter who wrote several books on himself and the subject of self-reference, meta-jokes are a popular form of humor.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Sentences about Self-Reference and Recurrence". Retrieved 2012-08-21.
  2. ^ Self referential humor
  3. ^ Alan Hughes; Performing Greek Comedy (Cambridge, 2012)